Reactions to Obama’s Speech

Michael Goldfarb points out how amazing our current situation is:

What if I told you in 2004 that the Democratic party would run an African American candidate for president in 2008? I tell you National Journal will officially label this candidate the most liberal member of the United States Senate. This candidate will also have served less than three years in that Senate, with no executive, foreign policy, or military experience. Then I tell you that this candidate will lose the party’s primaries in Texas, California, New York, Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Oh, and his minister sounds like Louis Farrakhan, and actually pals around and gives awards to Farrakhan.

This is the situation the Democratic party finds itself in, and not only that, but the presumptive Republican nominee has the highest favorability rating of any candidate Gallup’s tracked in the last eight years.

My own take: Obama had the opportunity for a “Sister Souljah” moment.  He almost seized it. Indeed, he came very close, and I thought he was going to do it. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t push Rev. Wright away.

Similarly, he almost transcended traditional discussions of race. He sounded briefly as if he were going to upend the usual pattern by demonstrating a real understanding of the perspective of many urban white voters:

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition.

All this has it exactly right. So, what does Obama have to say to these voters?

Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends.

Wait a minute—didn’t you just imply that fear of crime is real and rational, and not to be dismissed as mere prejudice? So, why are these politicians exploiting fears?

Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Again, hold on—I thought the above concerns were supposed to be legitimate. But the commentators who share them are the ones guilty of dismissing legitimate discussions?

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many.

What? These are “the real culprits”? They have something to do with why children are bused long distances to inferior schools? With why some children get into the state university with scholarships while others with much higher grades and SAT scores are turned down, solely because of the color of their skin?

And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

Isn’t that what you’ve just done?

So, what do you want from the white urban voters who are concerned about these issues? What do you have to say to them?

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed.

In other words—t**** s***.

That ought to go over well in Pennsylvania.

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